Thumbprint cookies are one of the two cookies that will always appear on my holiday tray. (The other mainstay is pecan sandies.) The centers are filled with jams in golden orange and/or deep red hues, reminiscent of golden topaz or ruby stones. It’s hard to resist picking one up. Give in.
My first memory of falling for these cookies occurred sometime around first grade. I remember sitting at the table, rolling out tablespoons of dough, while my mom stamped her thumb into each one and filled the crevice with a little jam. My dexterity has improved since then, so I now help top the cookies with jam. But my mom still has superior thumb print skills and is the sole stamper to this day. Really, she is doing that as I type this post.
The base is essentially a butter cookie, with almond extract replacing the vanilla. Almond extract has a clean, sweet flavor which adds a je ne sais quois mystery to almost any cookie. The buttery, lightly sweetened base is complimented by a fruity jam and a coating of pecans. Fill these cookies with a jam that tastes like the fruit it’s made with. I grew up with homemade stuff, but you can find quality versions at a farmers market or grocery store–Trader Joe’s low-sugar apricot or raspberry flavors are my picks.
(Makes about 3 1/2 dozen)
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs, separated
- 1 teaspoon pure almond extract
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/4 cups finely chopped pecans (feel free to toast them prior to chopping, but it’s not necessary)
- About 1/2 cup red currant, raspberry and/or apricot jam, stirred (I like to use my homemade jam, but Trader Joe’s low sugar varieties are the ideal substitute.)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer, or stand mixer with paddle attachment, until creamy. Gradual add sugar, blending well. Add egg yolks and almond extract, beating until blended.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the flour and salt until thoroughly blended.
- With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the creamed butter mixture. Beat until thoroughly blended. Chill/refrigerate the dough for one hour. (Hey, I know some of you have ZERO space in the fridge during the holidays. Feel free to chill this outside, covered, if it’s cold enough.)
- Shape dough into 1 1/4-inch balls. Lightly beat egg whites. Roll each ball into the egg whites and then roll in the finely chopped pecans. Place the balls 2-inches apart on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Lightly press thumb into each cookie to make an indentation. Drop 1/4 teaspoon of jam into each thumb print.
- Bake for 15 minutes, until the cookies are barely golden brown on the bottom. ( You might sacrifice a cookie to check if they are done.) Cool 1-minute on cookie sheets; remove to wire racks and let cook completely.